A smart bandage that uses electrical currents and utilizes flexible electronics is being developed by engineers at UC Berkeley. The bandage is able to detect early tissue damage from bedsores while they are still invisible to the naked eye. It could be used by doctors spot-checking patients in order to identify the problem before they can see it, and while the possibility for recovery is still high.
The engineers printed dozens of electrodes onto a thin and flexible film, then discharged a tiny current between the electrodes. This created a spatial map of the underlying tissue based on the flow of electricity at different frequencies, a technique which is known as “impedance spectroscopy.” They tested the bandage on rats and found that it was able to consistently detect varying degrees of tissue damage across different subjects.
Bedsores are caused when prolonged pressure cuts off adequate blood supply to the skin, commonly occuring on the heels, hips and tailbone of bedridden patients. This health problem affects an estimated 2.5 million U.S. residents, at a cost of $11 billion each year. This smart bandage could be a very useful tool for doctors, as it is usually too late when you can see signs of a bedsore on the surface of the skin. The bandage could act as an easy early-warning system enabling intervention before any permanent injury was caused.
In the future, a specially adapted bandage such as this could report lots of information about the body, which would be useful for improving patient care. Michel Maharbiz, a UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the smart bandage project, said:
We set out to create a type of bandage that could detect bedsores as they are forming, before the damage reaches the surface of the skin. We can imagine this being carried by a nurse for spot-checking target areas on a patient, or it could be incorporated into a wound dressing to regularly monitor how it’s healing.